By Sharon Billings, CVT
Senior Veterinary Information Specialist
Well, the excitement of the holidays has come and gone. Now we all just settle in for a winter of shorter, darker days and, for many of us, cold and snowy weather! Ho-hum, hum-drum — it’s not everybody’s favorite time of year! But humans aren’t the only ones who may experience the winter “blahs”. Your dog may be missing the physical exercise and mental stimulation that comes with all those fun outdoor activities enjoyed during the rest of the year. And you know the first rule of dog training – a tired dog is a happy dog! So, we’re going to focus today on ways to ban the blahs and keep your dog happy and healthy until spring!
Wanna Play In The Snow?
Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have reasonable temperatures, you can just grab a tennis ball and head out into the snowy back yard for some catch and fetch! My dog Bridget knows the bunnies and squirrels are active year-round so the back yard needs to be patrolled all winter long! And trust me; you can get in a pretty good little workout tromping around in the snow, too!
Wanna Go For A Walk?
If you’re feeling a bit more adventuresome, take a walk! My brother, an avid ice fisher, is fond of quoting this old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.” And that’s true — you and your dog can go for a walk just about any time of year – as long as you’re both dressed for the weather! Bridget and I, a couple of arthritic old girls, go for two walks almost every day year-round; our “Walkies” are the highlights of the day! Of course, we both dress for the weather conditions. And if weather conditions are downright unsafe, we have enough sense to stay home.
The outerwear required depends on the dog (breed, age, health status) as well as specific weather conditions; your veterinarian can provide some pointers. Here, Bridget models her warm, water resistant jacket and her fleece-lined waterproof booties. When it’s cold / snowy / windy she wears her jacket and when it’s VERY cold / icy we add the booties. Full disclosure: Bridget’s not crazy about the booties but if it comes down to “no booties, no walkies”, she’ll gladly tolerate them. For no-booties winter walks I like to apply a protective balm, for example Musher’s Secret, to her paw pads to protect them from ice and snow buildup as well as road salt injury.
Wanna Go For A Ride In The Car?
Most dogs love to go for a “Ride In The Car”. They don’t care where they go as long as they can come along! You, however, may prefer to actually accomplish something rather than aimlessly chauffeuring your dog around town. So here are some suggestions that allow you to check a few things off your to-do list and provide a super fun adventure for your dog at the same time. NOTE: This entire list can be accomplished without ever once leaving your dog unattended in your vehicle which, of course, is just as important in cold weather as it is in warm weather!
This first group of ideas doesn’t even require getting out of the car:
- Visit your bank’s drive-through teller. Say hi, get cash, make a deposit, and maybe when that tube comes back with your receipt (yes!) a dog biscuit!
- Pick up your prescription at the pharmacy’s drive-through window. Dog biscuit? Yes, please!
- Treat yourself to a latte at your neighborhood coffee shop’s drive through window. Yep, you got it – dog biscuit!
- Bear in mind that your drive-through ATM will *not* be providing a dog biscuit. You may want to have an “emergency” stash tucked away in your glove box for just such occasions lest you have a confused and disappointed doggy.
Okay, this is all well and good but now you’d like to get out of the car and stretch your legs. No problem! A few more suggestions:
- Stop at your dog’s veterinary clinic. Seriously, this is a perfect opportunity to reinforce the notion that going to the veterinary clinic can be fun. Come on into the lobby, say hi, step on the scale for a weigh-in, maybe even (yes!) score a dog biscuit!
- Stock up on pet supplies. Many pet stores, including many Petsmart and Petco locations, welcome leashed pets. The stores in my area even provide accident cleanup supplies, just in case. You can pick up food and other pet supplies and get in a little walk!
- Tackle that home improvement project. Many “big box” home improvement stores, including many Home Depot and Lowe’s locations, welcome leashed pets. You can get tooled up for your household project and really stretch your legs walking those long, wide aisles!
- The list goes on and includes Barnes and Noble, Macy’s, and Bass Pro Shop. Naturally, you’ll want to phone ahead for your stores’ rules and bring supplies you may need for accident cleanups and of course treats!
- And for those times you need to run errands where dogs are, sadly, not welcome consider your neighborhood doggy daycare! Bridget’s daycare offers half-day as well as full-day options so I can drop her off to let her play with all her canine friends in the warmth and safety of the roomy indoor area while I take care of grocery shopping, oil change, or whatever is on my list. Then I just pick up my tired and happy doggy and we go home to snuggle up on the sofa for the evening!
Around The House . . .
Let’s say it’s definitely a stay-at-home day (really bad weather) and your dog has a bad case of cabin fever. No worries, we’ve got you covered! Here are some indoor activities to help burn off a bit of energy while providing fun and mental stimulation!
- Is your dog reliably performing all the boot camp basics — sit / stay / come / drop it / leave it / lie down / off? Practice makes perfect so it’s always good to have a “refresher” on these basic skills! Grab a handful of kibble or small treats (deduct from next meal so you don’t end up with a pudgy pooch) and spend some time practicing the basics in the warmth and comfort of your living room.
- If you have the space for it, e.g., a long hallway or “clear shot” through open spaces, you can play fetch.
- Turn meal time into play time! Consider a food puzzle that holds your dog’s food and her interest; your dog works the puzzle to get to the food. Or just hide some kibble here and there around the house and have a treasure hunt!
- Bake up a batch of “cookies”. No, not chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin (heaven forbid!). I mean dog treat cookies! When it’s really cold, I like to find a good reason to use the oven which makes for a cozy kitchen and Bridget loves the results. I like to use a very small cookie cutter (with dogs, it’s all about quantity). Bridget loves peanut butter so that’s a featured cookie ingredient. Speaking of ingredients always check the ingredient list on your jar of peanut butter to make sure it does not contain any xylitol (a sweetener that can cause big trouble for dogs). Here is a link to the recipe I use: http://www.dogtreatkitchen.com/peanut-butter-dog-biscuit-recipe.html
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with a long winter’s nap. Many dogs will gladly snooze in their cozy bed or on the sofa while you put your feet up and enjoy a favorite book, movie, or music (perhaps while those cookies are baking).
And for a silver lining, remember: we may be in the dead of winter, but spring is just around the corner!